The term "advanced robotics" first can into use in the 1980s. It is used to define any sensor-based robots that attempt to mimic human intelligence. They are used in a variety of fields ranging from manufacturing, nuclear, construction, space and underwater exploration, and health care.
Popular culture is filled with advanced robotics. The robot on the television show Lost in Space and movie robots like Star Wars' C3PO and R2D2 were some of the first seemingly intelligent robots that average people were exposed to. In 1986, movie-going audiences met Johnny 5, the little autonomous robot from the movie Short Circuit. While all of these robots appeared truly autonomous, the robots themselves were largely a combination of puppetry and acting.
By the late 20th century, the science fiction of advanced robotics and the reality of it were beginning to overlap. Advanced robots of the 21st century are considered semi-autonomous. This mean that they are able to perform their tasks with a level of independence not found in automatic machines. Those called general purpose robots are able to perform their required tasks nearly independently. Some can recognize people or objects, talk, monitor environmental quality, pick up supplies and perform other useful tasks.
Robots are able to do these tasks through the use of a sensor. A simple example of this sensor is in room cleaning robots that bump a wall and understand to turn around and try another direction. Lawn mowing robots rely on underground markers to tell them this same information. Some of the most advanced robots are able to actually "see" through the use of infrared or stereo vision.
Some of the most advanced robotics of the 21st century are humanoid robots, meaning they resemble humans in their physical appearance as well as in their actions. They are considered autonomous because they can learn and adapt to changes within their environment. Johnny 5 is more of a reality in the 21st century than moviegoers of the 1980s could have imagined. Robots are being taught everything from how to load a dishwasher to mimicking facial expressions in response to particular types of human interactions.
One of the greatest feats of advanced robotics was seen in the rovers Opportunity and Spirit. Opportunity and Spirit landed on Mars in January of 2004 with the intention of completing an approximately 90-day mission. As of January 2009, five years later, they were still in operation. They landed on the surface with a precision unmatched in previous missions. They operate through communications with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and continue their missions through semi-autonomous interactions with the surface of Mars.
There were estimated to be about 3,540,000 service robots in use in 2006. At that time, there were an additional 950,000 industrial robots. In early 2009, Microsoft founder Bill Gates has predicted that every home will have a robot by 2025. Small robots like room sweepers and surprisingly complicated entertainer robots like Furby have been in homes since the 1990s. Given the advances even since those robots were introduced, the future of advanced robotics certainly seems boundless.